Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Utah Women in World War I from the UHQ (S4 E10)

December 06, 2022 Brad Westwood, Senior Public Historian, Utah Dept. of Culture & Community Engagement Season 4 Episode 10
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Utah Women in World War I from the UHQ (S4 E10)
Show Notes

Date: March 28, 2022 (Season 4, Episode 10: 52 min. & 8 sec. long). For the entire show notes and additional resources for this episode Click Here. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click Here.  This episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood, Chelsey Zamir, and Cassandra Clark, with help (sound engineering and postproduction editing) from Jason Powers from the Utah State Library Recording Studio. 

This SYP episode is part of an ongoing series about women’s history in Utah. It involves a discussion with Dr. Cassandra Clark about Miriam B. Murphy’s 2015 Utah Historical Quarterly article, entitled: “‘If Only I Shall Have the Right Stuff’: Utah Women in World War I,” (Fall, 1990: Vol. 58, No. 4).

Miriam Murphy sums up her argument: this article explores the Utah women who participated in a range of war-related activities in “direct participation with the military or with civilian organizations that took them to the battlefront.” (pg. 336) A longtime editor for the UHQ, Murphy states that many of these women’s activities and accomplishments to the war effort went largely unnoticed.

Due to gendered ideas in the early 1900s, many women were still limited within the organization of war. Nonetheless, women were involved from the front of the war effort with involvement in nursing and transporting wounded soldiers, all the way to the back with clerical and canteen workers and were responsible for funding their own participation. Two women by the names of Maud Fitch and Elizabeth McCune were ambulance drivers but were responsible for purchasing their own vehicles, providing their own living expenses, and McCune became a certified mechanic to repair the ambulance herself. 

Dr. Clark describes that the best way to understand what is going on in the US at this time is a country in shift. Many questions of identity, brought on by the war, were explored. Initially, the US, and by extension Utah, were reluctant to get involved in a war considered a European issue. Once officially involved, many Americans found themselves asking the question of what it looks like to be an American, what does that identity entail? Concerns arise around particular groups of people (immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans) not being “American enough” and the need for an “Americanization” class.

Clark concludes in this discussion with SYP host Brad Westwood, that women did, in fact, have the “right stuff” as the title of the article alludes. Women fully embraced participating in the war, often funding their own involvement. Unfortunately, once the war ends, what is highlighted and remembered is men’s participation, and what’s lost to the annals of history, is the full story of women’s involvement, especially that of working-class women and women of color [whose stories are beyond what is described in this article]. 

Miriam B. Murphy was the Associate Editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly from 1970-1997, and in the same unappreciated way helped shape the UHQ into a respected state history journal. Murphy is now considered a pioneer in bringing to the fore women's history in Utah.  Dr. Cassandra Clark (University of Utah, 2018) was, at the time of this recording, Utah Division of State History’s first named Womens’ Historian. In early fall of 2022, Dr. Clark became an assistant professor of history at Utah Tech University (St. George, Utah).

Do you have a question? Write askahistorian@utah.gov